Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Nothing rattles Plant City sophomore ace Ashley Blessin

PLANT CITY — Scoreless tie. Bottom of the seventh. Two outs. Bases loaded.

Hundreds upon hundreds of screaming fans cram around the fence at Lakewood Ranch in a do-or-die Class 8A region final.

One of the best hitters in the state steps into the box with the count at three balls, two strikes.

Plant City sophomore Ashley Blessin, all 5 feet, 4 inches of her, stands on the mound.

If Blessin throws a ball. Season over. If Blessin gives up a hit. Season over. If a Raider teammate commits an error. Season over.

Blessin breathes deep and fires.

It's an inside curveball that the batter swings at and …

Misses.

Strikeout. Season still alive.

"Ashley Blessin?" Plant City coach Ashley Bullion said. "She never gets rattled."

Before the game, it didn't bother Blessin that Lakewood Ranch was ranked No. 1 overall in the state and No. 8 in the country by MaxPreps. It also didn't bother her that Lakewood Ranch had a .361 team batting average, 43 total homers on the season, and averaged eight runs and 10 hits a game.

On the contrary.

"It excited me," said Blessin, who this year has thrown every game, compiling a 0.56 ERA with 226 strikeouts, but had never thrown against a team as tough as Lakewood Ranch. "I thought it was a great challenge. I couldn't wait to pitch against them."

Bullion says Blessin's teammates hear her and watch her and, with eac h command performance in the toughest situations, all the Raiders gain confidence.

That's why — after Plant City finally defeated Lakewood Ranch 1-0 in 11 innings with Blessin giving up only four hits and striking out 15 on more than 200 pitches — the Raiders believe they could beat just about anybody.

And now, heading to Vero Beach to take on Wellington (21-6) in Friday's Class 8A state semifinal, the Raiders, who have never reached a state softball semifinal in school history, are ready to make more noise.

Which still might surprise some folks, many of whom said the Raiders (22-2) didn't stand a prayer against Lakewood Ranch.

On the surface, the Raiders don't look overly intimidating in physical stature, and on paper the same holds true, hitting for a team average of .299 while scratching out an average of five runs a game.

Blessin, for that matter, doesn't look that intimidating when she pitches, barely getting her fastball to 60 mph.

But step onto the field against these relentless Raiders, and things suddenly get tremendously challenging.

Particularly when it comes to Blessin.

Blessin not only paints the corners with an inside curve, outside curve, changeup, screwball and a riser, but she hits her spots with uncanny, consistent accuracy.

On the sideline, her father, assistant coach Gary Blessin, charts the opponent's tendencies to each of his daughter's pitches. In between, he calls every pitch for her.

"I would say we work pretty well together," said Gary Blessin, who started catching Ash. ley when she was just 9 years old. "It's been a dream situation."

One that keeps going, no matter what.

"We're far from done with this," Ashley Blessin said. "We're ready to play these games. I can't wait."

.fast facts

State softball

At Historic Dodgertown, Vero Beach. Admission is $12 at the gate and parking is $10.

8A semifinal: Plant City vs. Wellington, 5:20 p.m. Friday

8A final: 5:35 p.m. Saturday

Nothing rattles Plant City sophomore ace Ashley Blessin 05/17/17 [Last modified: Thursday, May 18, 2017 4:47pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. J.T. Brown of Lightning respects NFL players' protests

    Blogs

    There was something in the air in the NFL on Sunday. President Trump’s comments and tweets on NFL player protests achieved the effect of creating more of them. Lightning winger J.T. Brown was asked about it as he stood in a hall at Amalie Arena, a few hours before the Lightning played the Florida Panthers in …

    J.T. Brown, one of about 30 African-American players in the National Hockey League, would not rule out that he might protest.
  2. Cannon Fodder podcast: Bucs-Vikings review

    Bucs

    Greg Auman looks back on Sunday's 34-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in the latest edition of our Bucs Cannon Fodder podcast.

    Quarterback Jameis Winston is sacked during the first half of the Bucs' 34-17 loss to the Vikings. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  3. Who took a knee? How each NFL team responded to Donald Trump's tweets about anthem protests

    Bucs

    NFL players, coaches and owners across the league reacted in various ways on Sunday to remarks from President Donald Trump speaking about NFL players who have protested during the national anthem.

    Members of the Oakland Raiders kneel during the playing of the National Anthem before an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in Landover, Md., Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. [Alex Brandon | Associated Press]
  4. East Lake alum George Campbell starting to click at Florida State

    Blogs

    When receiver Auden Tate (Wharton High) went down with a shoulder injury for Florida State on Saturday, the Seminoles' offense took a major hit. Quarterback James Blackman was 16-of-22 for 190 yards before Tate's injury and 6-of-16 for 88 after it.

  5. Fennelly: Our president, our protests

    Blogs

    Our president has done more to foster protests during the national anthem than the protestors.

    Bucs receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson both took a knee and put a hand over their hearts.